US Senate approves budget, its first since 2009
The US Senate reached a milestone early Saturday when it overcame partisan gridlock to approve its first budget resolution in four years, setting up a political duel with the Republican-held House.
The sweeping plan for fiscal year 2014, the first budget blueprint passed by the Democrat-led Senate under President Barack Obama since 2009, squeaked by by the narrowest of margins, 50-49.
"Doing this has been a Herculean feat," said Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, noting the 100 amendments that were voted on in a marathon, 13-hour session known in the Senate as a "vote-a-rama."
The plan, shepherded by Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray, seeks nearly $1 trillion in new revenue over the next decade, mostly through the closure of tax loopholes that favor the wealthy, and an equal amount in reductions to government spending.
The House of Representatives on Thursday adopted its own budget resolution, which seeks to reach balance within 10 years through significant reductions in federal spending, the overhaul of entitlements like Medicare and the repeal of Obama's health care law.
The glaring partisanship of Congress ensures that neither plan will be enacted into law. Instead they will serve as the starting points for a broader debate this year over budget policy.
Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the comprehensive debate on the floor that allowed lawmakers to eventually reach their objective of voting on a fiscal blueprint.
"You may not feel it at the moment, but this is one of the Senate's finest days in recent years," he said.
Leaders in the Senate and House are now expected to bring the chambers to conference as lawmakers head into what is increasingly likely to be a summer showdown over the US federal borrowing limit.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner has said he wants a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar rise in the debt ceiling, but Obama opposes such an approach.
Obama has courted Republicans in recent weeks in a bid to draw mutually acceptable outlines for deficit reduction. The president wants new revenues as part of a deal, but Boehner has stressed that the $600 billion in tax hikes from a year-end pact were the last new taxes he wanted to see.
"I realize there are serious differences between the parties," Murray told the chamber.
"We have presented very different visions for how our country should work and who it should work for, but I am hopeful that we can bridge this divide."
Senators worked feverishly through the entire day Friday and into Saturday, as the parties' leaders contended with more than 560 filed amendments.
Most fell by the wayside and were not voted on, but there were key amendments that were approved, including a repeal of an unpopular tax on medical devices that was enacted as part of "Obamacare."
Senators also went on record in support of the Keystone Pipeline, which the Obama administration has delayed due to environment concerns, and backed the withholding of wages for top White House budget staff for every day Obama fails to produce his budget plan.
Obama was supposed to lay out his budget in February, but the White House now says he will do so in April.